Tuesday, November 28, 2006

He Really Did It

It all started when Mr. and Mrs. William Banks had their first child. Robert Evan was his name. He was a detached, scholarly child with an angular nose, and a dark unibrow. Though most scholarly children do seem to be a bit detached anyway, he was detached in a very odd sense of the word. He did not allow himself to feel any affection towards mother or father - towards anyone for that matter. Even as a baby, when hugged or held, he would strain against their arms, and wail until he was released. Perhaps this detachment implies independence. Oh no. Not Robert. He was thirty-one and still living quietly at home at the time this story took place. He expected his mother to come in every morning, sit softly on the edge of his bed, and stroke his hair until he woke up. He then required her to hum Rachmaninov's Suite No. 2, Op. 17 outside his door as he prepared for the day.

"Rob, are you quite done dressing?"

"Just working on the tie, Anne." (He never called her "mother".) "Start from the beginning. I'll comb my hair while you're at it." As you can see, he liked to savor every note. Oddly enough, this fine specimen never sang a song, or played an instrument in his life.

He was a very private person - never shared his thoughts or feelings with anyone, which is one of the underlying reasons for his status as a bachelor.

He had never been 'in love', neither had he ever been 'out of love'. Every time he left the house, a trail of at least seven females followed him at indiscreet distances, casting obvious looks of dislike at the others as each considered herself to be the Chosen One for Robert. His own mother could not understand why the women followed Robert until he himself informed her that they did so because they admired his unibrow, of which he was very proud. He groomed it carefully with a toothbrush every morning, and enhanced it with a stick of drawing charcoal.

"Rob, dear, I'm sure it's because of something else. Perhaps your money?"

"Nonsense, Anne. I know it is because of my unibrow. I'm sure they are all artists and must study me carefully to make the proper translation from mind to paper. A unibrow is a highly difficult feature to duplicate."

His mother folded her lips into a thin line and said nothing more. The mere thought of seven women following her son because they admired his unibrow...it was too much. She had heard the expression, "he had a face only a mother could love", and this saying wounded her deeply: was she that poor a mother that she found her son so hideously repulsive? But every morning as she studied him across the breakfast table, trying to find even one feature to admire, she only found him more revolting, more gruesome than before. He nose seemed longer and more pinched, his eyes more beady, and his unibrow more bushy and black. And was that the hint of a goatee creeping along the chin that fell miles below the bulbous forehead? She could not restrain the involuntarily shudder that came after each careful morning study. She could only take comfort in one thing: since Robert's birth no one had ever said to Will or her, "oh, he looks JUST like you!", for indeed it was not true; there was very little family resemblance to be found between the three of them.

Robert eventually began to sense his mother's vague displeasure about something, but couldn't put a finger on what it was all about. He spent many evenings reflecting on this development, when he finally received a revelation at a most unexpected time. It was not what he was doing, but was he wasn't doing.

He'd just finished attacking his dinner in the most vulgar way - spreading his vicinity with bread crumbs, gravy, and gristle from his steak, and finally dousing the whole setup with the remains of his wine, when he broke his cup across his plate.

"Robert! Just look at you!" his mother shrieked, rising.

He walked over to mirror and examined himself carefully, dusted a few crumbs from his coat, inspected his hand for possible glass splinters, and returned to the table.

"Yes?"

"Your place is like a pig trough!"

"Yes?"

"You're thirty-one years old!"

"Yes?"

"I'm ashamed of you!"

"Apparently so."

His mother grabbed the back of a chair and squeezed it until her knuckles were bulging and white. "Why can't you live up to your name? Your father has led a successful life! What about your grandfather?"

"What about him?" Robert responded coolly.

"He started his own business; he made it very well in life."

"So you want me to live up to my name?"

"Yes, I do. Do something worthwhile."

"All right, I will." A look of ominous calm passed over Robert's features.

"And please clean up your place."

"I think you just mentioned the word, 'worthwhile'?" He turned halfway up the stairs and nodded to confirm his statement. "Goodbye, I'm going out."

She watched him climb the stairs with a sinking feeling. Could she never penetrate that dense, self-infatuated head?

"What's the trouble, Anne?" Will wondered, entering the room, and draping his suit jacket over the back of his chair.

"It's Robert," she said, turning. "Look at his place."

Will sighed. "I know, but you've allowed him to do it for the past thirty years; I'm sure he won't change now."

"How do you--" Anne broke off as Robert walked through the room, hat on, and walking cane in his hand.

Turning, he tipped his hat and bowed slightly before slamming the door. Anne and Will moved towards the window as one, and watched as the inevitable stream of females began to file after him. Suddenly, Robert did an uncharacteristic thing. He turned and began shouting and waving his cane violently at them. They stopped short, terrified, but did not start to run until he wheeled and rushed towards them, cane whistling sharply through the air. They did not return to continue their pursuit.

"What's gotten into him?" Will wondered after his son's lone figure disappeared in the distance.

"I only lectured him - probably not enough to put him in a bad mood... I told him to clean up his place, and I also told him to..."

"Told him what?" Will wondered, scared by the shade of white creeping over his wife's face.

"Told him to...live up to his name," she said in a barely audible whisper, then sank to the floor in a dead faint.

"About time someone told him that," Will grunted as he went off in search of the smelling salts. Suddenly he stopped, mid-step, freezing in holy fear. "No."

Yes, the room replied. Yes, he will.

"He wouldn't!"

He is.

Will thudded to the floor - the first time he'd fainted since Rob Banks had entered their formerly happy home thirty-one years ago.

Poor Rob Banks.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Control Freaks Can Grow Up

I never knew the true definition of the title, “Control Freak” until I was in charge of something. Suddenly, everything changed. Suddenly, nothing could be done properly unless I was the one at the helm. Suddenly, the word ‘surrender’ made me nervous.

Really nervous.

This story takes us back a few years when my sister, my aunt, and I decided to start publishing our own Christian e-magazine. This is a long and painful story, so I will summarize and spare you the gruesome details. Basically, I was “somehow” appointed editor. I understood that it was my job to pull the magazine together, organize details, process mail, develop our mission statement, and formulate a set of guidelines. It sounded so easy...
Two weeks later, my life hurtled into a brick wall. Maybe I glanced off, maybe the wall toppled over on me – my memory of that time is still a little blurry. All I know is that I had taken on WAY TOO MUCH. I was spending over thirty hours a week trying to file and manage hundreds of email addresses: a nightmare. I was trying to respond to mail, appease the rude, express gratitude to the gracious, make plans to keep people’s interest, design the layout to look professional and easy to read, encourage the other two columnists to meet the deadlines, trying to remind myself that friendships were more important. And this was supposed to be a small-operation thing! Then everything came to a grinding halt.

“I QUIT!” was the only explosion that sounded from the computer desk when the keys stopped rattling and the smoke cleared.

And indeed I did. For all of five days.

What a miserable five days they were too. Here was the problem – our problem, my problem: when I quit, I was selfishly dragging the whole thing down with me. “I quit” meant, hypothetically, “it’s all over”. When the other two involved offered to ‘share the load’ my heart almost stopped beating.

“What’s the password?” they asked, “We’ll add the email addresses, we’ll type commas between addresses from now ‘til Kingdom Come; we’ll put the magazine together”.

Visions of formatting gone awry flashed before my eyes. Three beats short of a heart attack, I hopped back in the pilot’s seat, determined once more, to do everything myself. “Thanks anyway guys, but I think I’ve got everything under control.” (Translation: “No thanks, I’d rather be in control.”)

No man is an island. Eventually I learned that it was OK to accept help from others, hand the reigns to someone else, even if only for a short time. My sanity was spared because of this.
Guys, I am not writing this to show you how I can behave at my worst: I’m trying to say that so many of us have a little of this hidden inside. We believe that things can work out properly only if we are in charge. We would rather drive than take a plane because we trust our hands, not the pilot’s. We paint our own rooms because our friends would do a lousy job. We format our own articles because someone else would do it all wrong.
And my solution is not, “Hang out with some phlegmatics; life will get really easy.” My suggestion is: die to self and be humble (i.e., don’t be so proud and selfish!). Control freaks are not people who are naturally more selfish than others: they are people who succumb to their intrinsic selfishness and...yes...let it take control of them! As the title of this article suggests, control freaks can grow up. They can submit and...yes...even surrender.
When we humble ourselves, then we are lifted up.